LONDON (AP) – Mario Balotelli's sister is unhappy at the continuos castigation the Italy striker receives in England for his multiple misdemeanors and perceived petulance.
Cristina Balotelli acknowledged her adopted brother, who turns 21 on Friday, is a flawed character who is still developing as a footballer. But she said the constant stream of criticism has been unwarranted since he joined Manchester City last year.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Cristina said people in England are too ''ready to attack an Italian footballer, or coach, when they are not brilliant.''
The forward has rarely been out of the headlines, with former Manchester United captain Gary Neville branding some of his conduct an ''embarrassment to his club.''
''Mario might have not been brilliant, but putting all the blame on him for the defeat is totally unfair,'' Cristina Balotelli said. ''Soccer is teamwork.''
City manager Roberto Mancini also defended him, refuting any suggestion that the Wembley incident was an act of petulance.
''Every time Mario does something people read things into it,'' said Mancini, a fellow Italian.
Patrick Vieira, a City player last season who now has an executive role at the club, says it's time for Balotelli to mature.
''People forget how young he really is,'' the former France midfielder said. ''I hope this year he will learn from his mistakes. He is a really talented footballer and I hope he can show everybody how good he is.''
Cristina is angriest at the media for portraying her brother in a negative light. There are numerous stories she claims are untrue - saying he never bought a Harley Davidson motorbike in breach of club rules and a dead fish was not found on his Maserati, which one paper said was apparently a sign the supporters dislike him.
''Supporters love Mario,'' Cristina said. ''Every time I go to see a football match in which he plays I find myself randomly in groups of supporters who sing the Balotelli song: 'Oooh Balotelliii ... he's a striker ...'
''I always tell him. I think they like him because he's fun and genuine like them.''
Maybe that's why when police asked him why he had 5,000 pounds ($8,000) in his car he quipped: ''Because I'm rich.''
Comments he made to Italian TV that he didn't like living in Manchester brought suggestions he was trying to engineer a move back to Inter Milan after only one season at City.
Cristina said that, like his City teammate Carlos Tevez, Balotelli simply doesn't like living in the northern English city.
''He said he's happy with the coach and the team at Manchester City, but he doesn't like the city of Manchester because he misses Brescia, his home, not Milan,'' Cristina said. ''He said, 'I miss my family and friends but I think this experience in England will help me grow as an individual.'
''I don't find anything wrong in what he genuinely said. He doesn't like the city, you cannot expect a foreigner to like Manchester when even the people who live there told me it is provincial and a bit depressing cause it rains a lot. Personally, I also don't like the city.''
Living away from Italy for the first time hasn't helped the homesickness, and establishing real friendships is difficult when playing for one of the world's richest clubs.
''People may think it is easy to be a footballer because you have money and popularity, but it is not easy at all sometimes,'' Cristina said. ''They are surrounded by people who treat them like stars and stay with them because they are celebrities, not for what they really are. They see their name and photo on papers all the time. That's why they often miss genuine relationship, like your family or your best friends.''
Italy coach Cesare Prandelli has faith in Balotelli to deliver, saying the best way for him to prove his detractors wrong is on the pitch.
''Mario needs to improve and understand that if he does so his physical power could be devastating,'' Prandelli said.
Asked about English people becoming tired of Balotelli, Prandelli responded: ''I'm certainly not - I haven't had him long enough.''